Military Monday: Support Units of the Amphibious Force

October 20, 2017
PACIFIC OCEAN (July 23, 2017) Sailors tie up a Landing Craft Unit from Beachmaster Unit 1 in the well deck aboard the amphibious transport dock ship USS Somerset (LPD 25) in support of UNITAS LVIII. The annual, multi-national exercise focuses on strengthening existing regional partnerships and encourages establishing new relationships through the exchange of maritime mission-focused knowledge and expertise during multinational training operations. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jacob I. Allison/Released) 170723-N-BT947-447

During the island-hopping campaigns of World War II, military leaders recognized a need for a single organization dedicated to the support of amphibious operations. A decision was made to consolidate amphibious assault assets under one parent command, thus forming Naval Beach Group ONE in July 1948.

Since the beginning, NBG-1 and its component commands have participated in a variety of amphibious operations. Starting early on during the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, to the modern and technically sophisticated amphibious operations in Somalia and Iraq, the Sailors of NBG have served throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans in support of U.S. policy abroad.

LCAC Operations on Marine Corps Base Hawaii
KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii (June 25, 2014) Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Robert Pucel, from Beachmaster Unit (BMU) 1, signals Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) 58, assigned to Assault Craft Unit (ACU) 5, to hold it’s position after landing during an equipment transfer between the amphibious dock landing ship USS Rushmore (LSD 47) and Marine Corps Base Kaneohe Bay. The equipment will be used to support Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2014, the world’s largest international maritime exercise. Twenty-two nations, more than 40 ships and submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in RIMPAC from June 26 to Aug. 1. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dustin Knight/Released) 140625-N-HU377-137

This initial Naval Beach Group (NBG) consisted of Headquarters Unit, Boat Unit One, Amphibious Construction Battalion (ACB) ONE, and Underwater Demolition Team ONE. Eventually, Boat Unit ONE became Assault Craft Unit ONE, and Underwater Demolition Team ONE shifted to the control of Naval Special Warfare Command. In 1949 Beachmaster Unit ONE was added to the organization, and with the addition of Assault Craft Unit FIVE in 1983 the organization gained the ability to conduct over-the-horizon assaults using the landing craft air-cushioned (LCAC).

Amphibious Construction Battalion (ACB) ONE was commissioned at Camp Peary, Williamsburg, Virginia, in July of 1943 as the 104th Naval Construction Battalion. During WWII, the 104th completed many land based construction projects, from air fields to Naval Operation Bases. They first began amphibious missions in 1947, with the assembly and placement of pontoon structures, beach rehabilitation, harbor development, salvage, and training of reservists in these operations. By 1950, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) recognized the unique capabilities of the 104th that set them apart from the rest of the Naval Construction Battalions, so they were renamed Amphibious Construction Battalion One.

The capabilities of the Seabees in ACB-1 focus on providing round-the-clock transporting from ship to shore of fuel, materials, equipment and water, in support of the Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), and Maritime Prepositioning Force (MPF) operations. The importance and impact of these Seabee Battalions was demonstrated during the invasion of Sicily, where it was proven that pontoon causeways provide an excellent method of rapidly unloading vehicle-borne cargo and troops in areas with shallow water where larger ships can’t go, thus providing the element of surprise.

PACIFIC OCEAN (Aug. 26, 2014) Landing Craft Utility (LCU) 1681 departs the well deck of the amphibious dock landing ship USS Comstock (LSD 45) to conduct a personnel transfer with the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8). Comstock, part of the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group, is on a deployment with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit to promote peace and freedom of the seas by providing security and stability in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Lenny LaCrosse/Released) 140826-N-CU914-018

 Assault Craft Unit ONE is composed of four utility landing craft (LCU). These rugged steel vessels are used by ARGs to transport cargo, vehicles and troops from amphibious assault ships to the beach or piers. With both bow and stern ramps for loading/offload operations, several LCUs can connect bow to stern to support roll-through offload to shore. Although small in comparison to ships in the fleet, these vessels still have most of the same amenities; including berthing spaces, galley and laundry, and can operate independently at sea for up to ten days.

ACU-1 embarks the well-deck of a larger amphibious ship with the mission to deploy a fighting force of Marines ashore. Ballast tanks on the large amphib are filled, sinking the stern and flooding the well deck, allowing the LCU to float and deploy. ACU handles the amphibious assault aspect of an engagement by moving those troops, vehicles and supplies across open water to the shore.

Since 9/11, ACU-1’s mission has expanded to support the Global War on terrorism. These missions include multi-day anti-piracy patrols, visit-board-search and seizure operations, oil platform defense, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Like many of these support units, Beachmaster Unit ONE was formed to support the amphibious assaults during WWII. It was apparent that the orderly flow of troops, equipment and supplies across the assault beaches was necessary for the success of amphibious operations. This led to the formation of the Beach Party Battalion, which included a Beachmaster Unit. By July 1948 the CNO ordered the commissioning of the Beachmaster Unit as a separate command, forming BMU-1.

BMUs bring tactical components to support amphibious operations. By deploying the Beach Party Team with Expeditionary Forces, BMUs provide beach and surf zone salvage and facilitate the landing and movement on the beach of troops, equipment, supplies and evacuation of casualties, prisoners-of-war and non-combatants. Beachmasters are not only capable of supporting combat operations, as they are also called upon to support humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions.

NBU 7 LCACs, 31st MEU Return to USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6)
CORAL SEA (July 23, 2017) Landing Craft, Air Cushion (LCAC) 21, assigned to Naval Beach Unit (NBU) 7, approaches the well deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) during Talisman Saber 17. The biennial U.S. and Australian bilateral exercise held off the coast of Australia is designed to achieve interoperability and strengthen the U.S.-Australian alliance. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class William Sykes/Released) 170723-N-XK809-329

Assault Craft Unit FIVE provides the fleet the capability to deliver supplies across long distances in a short period of time with the use of LCACs. The LCAC is a high-speed, over-the-beach, fully amphibious landing craft, capable of hauling 75 tons of cargo (troops, weapon systems, equipment) at speeds of 40+ knots. Although that’s about half the payload capacity of the LCU, the air cushion technology of the LCAC allows it to reach more than 70 percent of the world’s coastline, where LCUs can only access about 15 percent.

As different as these support units are from one another, they all are an integral part of the U.S. fighting forces. They have to operate in a high density, multi-threat environment while deployed with the ARG. All of these units contribute to the core capabilities of U.S. Maritime Sea Power; Forward Presence, Deterrence, Sea Control, Power Projection, and Maritime Security. They work together to provide the fleet with the movement of troops, vehicles, equipment and supplies from ship to shore.

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